New business fills a niche in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — When Pierre Vachon set out to get a pair of tragedy/comedy masks tattooed on his upper arm last year, he had no idea that the venture would lead him to become a business proprietor in downtown Middlebury.
During the long hours in the tattoo chair, he got to know tattoo artist Christin Eaton, who was operating a fully licensed business out of her home.
“As she was tattooing me we were talking, and it just kind of fit,” he said. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we open up a shop together?’”
Vachon has several tattoos done by Eaton up and down his left arm. He has plans for her to do the rest of his arm — he’s planning a full-arm comedy/tragedy mask motif — but now that they are in business together the customers take precedence.
Early in the year, the duo started renovations on their space in Frog Alley, across from Edgewater Gallery. In mid-April, Frog Alley Tattoo and Leatherworks held its soft opening, and even without advertisement so far Vachon said that Eaton’s tattoo schedule is often full two weeks ahead of time, with long hours blocked out to create each tattoo.
The store looks out over the Otter Creek Falls, and its airy space hosts an array of eclectic merchandise — including odd figurines, rainbow chain-mail purses, and all manner of earrings, nose rings and bellybutton rings. In addition to tattoos, leather items and miscellaneous curios, Vachon also does body piercing.
In the back of the shop sits a black-and-white checkered linoleum alcove with a black surgical chair — this is Eaton’s impeccably clean corner.
“I’m an absolute clean freak,” said Eaton, pumping sanitizer onto her hands from a bottle on the counter.
And for Vermont’s highly regulated body piercing and tattoo regulations, the store has to be clean — this is one of very few states where the Red Cross allows people to give blood on the same day as they have gotten a tattoo.
The duo said that business has been good so far because of the niche they are filling. Though they have seen interest in the area for tattoos or body piercing, the next closest stores that provide these services are in Burlington and Rutland.
“People didn’t want to drive two hours to get a tattoo, piercing or a funky gift,” said Vachon.
He stressed the ever-changing nature of the merchandise in the shop — the two are constantly on the lookout for more merchandise that will keep their selection fresh and unusual, and they plan to bump up their inventory before holidays, especially Halloween.
Vachon has in the past made large works of chain mail for films like “Lord of the Rings,” and picked up the art of making chain mail during his years on the professional wrestling circuit — it gave him something to do with his hands while traveling. What he sells in the store is a more creative array, including chain-mail purses and candleholders.
The retail portion of the store also showcases skeleton art by Stephen Bruce and photography by Shauni Kirby, both local artists.
As the centerpiece of the shop, Eaton’s art takes on a permanence of its own once it is on someone’s body.
She has been tattooing ever since the Dog Team Tavern in New Haven burned down in 2006 and she lost her catering job there. The restaurant’s unfortunate demise was just the push she needed — having been interested in tattooing for many years, she got an internship at a tattoo parlor in Albany, N.Y., and after her training made the decision to jump into the business.
“I decided that it was what I wanted to be doing,” said Eaton. “It’s just fun.”
The store’s opening hasn’t been entirely smooth, though. Back in April, the delivery of their sign, which ended up being made in Australia, was held up in transport because air traffic across Europe was grounded due to that month’s volcanic activity in Iceland.
The store’s schedule has proved difficult as well. While Eaton lives in Middlebury, Vachon spends long hours commuting from Colchester for the six-day-a-week schedule and for his job as a bouncer at Two Brothers Tavern. Earlier this year, he was also commuting between Massachusetts and home in order to gain experience for his body-piercing certification. He said he is currently looking for housing in the area.
Despite these minor hurdles, though, the two remain enthusiastic about the shop, and welcome new customers coming in for a tattoo, a piercing, or just to look around at the assorted merchandise.
“We’re a no-judgment tattoo shop,” said Vachon. “The most important thing is that you leave happy.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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